Portugal is one of fifteen EU Member States currently keeping dolphins in captivity. There are two dolphinaria in Portugal - one located in the tourist area of Algarve and the other in Lisbon. Together they reportedly hold a total of 25 bottlenose dolphins.
Zoo Marine (Algarve) is the larger of the two dolphinaria and currently holds 21 bottlenose dolphins in captivity. Seven of the 21 dolphins are wild-caught, including six imported from Cuba in 1999, three of which remain at the Zoo Marine. Until recently the park has said to hold one of the oldest captive dolphins in the world, he was known as Sam. Sam passed away on February, 16th 2011 at the age of 50, which is very old for a captive dolphin. The dolphins at Zoo Marine perform in shows seven days a week between March and October. Zoo Marine also offer members of the public a dolphin experience which includes physical contact, training and swimming with the dolphins for 45 minutes at regular intervals throughout the day. The marine park also claims to be involved in education, active conservation and rehabilitation of marine animals.
Jardim Zoológico de Lisboa, also known as the Lisbon Zoo reportedly holds 4 bottlenose dolphins which all perform in the dolphin show three times a day every day of the year. Until recently they also held a long-finned pilot whale in captivity. The long-finned pilot whale calf was found on August of 2006, stranded on the beach near Nazaré in poor health. The calf was taken to Portuguese Wildlife Society facility in Quiaios, Portugal and then transferred to Lisbon Zoo in November of 2006 where it was given continuing veterinary treatment. After a year the young pilot whale, known as "Nazaré", was reportedly weaned off of artificial milk, eating fish and squid, and training to participate in shows. In 2009, Nazaré was due to be transferred from the Lisbon Zoo to Sea World in San Diego, but he sadly died a few months before he was due to be transferred, at the age of only 3 years. The necropsy could not establish the cause of death.
In 2001 both dolphinaria in Portugal applied for the import of 10 bottlenose dolphins from Guinea-Bissau in West Africa and 4 from Cuba. These applications were denied by the Portuguese CITES authorities (The Convention on the international trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). However, in 2003, a wild bottlenose dolphin was imported into Spain and then transferred to Portugal, highlighting the problems associated with internal trade within the EU.
Portugal offers a plethora of alternatives to seeing dolphins and other cetaceans in captivity as there are many opportunities to see these animals in their natural environment. The Sado Estuary, south of Lisbon is the main destination in Portugal to see bottlenose dolphins and the occasional common dolphin or harbour porpoise. This resident population of bottlenose dolphins are extremely important as they are the only remaining resident population left in Portugal, the other sadly declined and disappeared.
The islands of Madeira and Azores also offer the chance to see a whole host of cetacean species. Madeira is home to inshore bottlenose dolphins and harbour porpoises and also offshore sightings of sperm and pilot whales. Azores is well known for the vast amount of whale species sightings, including sperm, blue, fin and sei whales, and also chances to see Risso’s, striped and spotted dolphins.
Portugal is Party to ACCOBAMS (Agreement on the Conservation of Cetaceans in the Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea and contiguous Atlantic area) a cooperative inter-governmental agreement for the conservation of marine biodiversity in the Mediterranean and Black seas. Portugal’s dolphinaria are included in the national zoo law but there are no standards specific to the keeping of these animals in captivity.
FLIPPER is a registered charity, established in 1997 and dedicated to the conservation and welfare of cetaceans. FLIPPER is involved in a large conservation project of the currently threatened resident population of River Sado’s bottlenose dolphins.